The red sea
I have always known Italians to be a protective and passionate bunch when it comes to two integral aspects of their lives - religion and soccer.
But, after attending this past weekend's Formula 1 Gran Premio Santander D'Italia - just on the outskirts of the world's fashion capital, Milan - I am definitely adding motorsport to that list.
Why? Well, when the F1 road show hits town, residents put aside their differences about Inter Milan or AC Milan - the two football factions in town - and unite behind what is arguably the most recognisable and successful manufacturer in the history of F1 racing - Ferrari.
Normally a peaceful retreat where people cycle, jog and walk their dogs, the Parco di Monza is a 1500 hectare park that provides some open spaces for a community that, largely, lives in terraced flats without gardens.
But once a year that tranquility is shattered as 12 teams - 24 drivers - compete in front of about 100000 fanatical fans at what, for many, is the sacred home of F1 racing situated within the park.
It's a sea of red as the fans swarm to a place they call "La Pista Magica" - the magic race track - where their adoration for team and drivers knows no bounds.
How else do you explain the fact that tens of thousands of fans - in what has become a race end ritual - storm the track like a tsunami to get close to third-placed Fernando Alonso and leave the area only hours after the event has finished while the smoke from lighted flares lingers in the air like a low bank of cloud.
Ferrari a religion
In a way, at that particular moment, the Ferrari team is their religion, the driver their God.
Before I travelled to Italy, what I knew about F1 was what I had learnt from watching televised races in the comfort of my own home.
But nothing can prepare the senses for the first time you hear the sound of that engine as driver and machine combine in one of the most dangerous sports known to man.
A friend tipped me off about the noise and advised me to take a pair of ear plugs. I must admit, it was the best thing I ever did!
It starts off as a kind of primeval grunt as the driver taps on-and-off the accelerator before finally flooring it and the whine transcends into a demonic growl.
I shouldn't have been surprised I guess, considering the driver is pulling more than 13000rpm and at times is hurtling down straights at speeds of just under 350km/h!
Monza is recognised as the second fastest track on the F1 circuit - after Hockenheim in Germany - and, with its fast, sweeping curves, it proved ideal for eventual winner Lewis Hamilton, who led comfortably from start to finish in his McLaren Mercedes.
For the die-hard Ferrari fans - or the "tifosi" as they are known - race day begins bright and early.
The 53-lap race only starting at 2pm, so there is plenty of time to chill in one of the many small bistros that line Monza's cobbled streets. The mood is relaxed as lovers of the sport gather from throughout Europe en-route to the legendary track.
The authorities in the area are obviously experienced in handling large sporting events, because getting entry to the track is relatively hassle free.
Park-and-rides, coupled with a tram, train and a bus service, mean spectators are spared the grind of queuing for too long; so the banter between the fans is jovial.
While the majority of spectators spend the day in the open grandstands scattered around the 5.8km circuit, for the well-heeled, a day of indulgence awaits; and in this regard, there is no better place to be pampered than at the renowned Formula One Paddock Club.
R40000 entry fee
Entry to this area is strictly controlled and doesn't come cheap with a three-day pass costing in the region of $5000 (R40000). Nevertheless, for the highflyers, this is the only place to be seen.
From early in the morning, until well after the chequered flag has been waved there is an endless supply of the finer things in life.
MH MUMM champagne flows like water throughout the day, while any other refreshment you may desire is never more than a hostess away.
A day-long buffet is available, with delicacies like seared king fish, fillet of beef and kashmir lamb curry to keep the hunger pangs at bay.
If all this gets too much for you, however, you can pop into the massage tent where the stresses of living such a life can be rubbed away.
But, really...it's the racing you should really be there for and a pit lane walk is an absolute must.
This is where the pre-race television interviews are held and former greats such as David Coulthard, Jackie Stewart - in his traditional blue and red tartan cap and trousers - and Damon Hill are easily recognisable as they discuss the various teams' chances leading up to the main race.
The pit-lane walk also gives you a glimpse into the areas where the technicians work so hard, making final tweaks to the vehicles before fast-approaching race time.
A sprightly 84-year-old Bernie Ecclestone can often be seen, deep in conversation with various stakeholders, back where the giant, team trailer park is erected. Ecclestone, who has ruled F1 with an iron fist since 2000, reportedly never watches any more than 20 minutes of a race before jetting off somewhere for another round of talks and to get a deal signed.
It's just another strand in the rich tapestry that reveals the beauty and history of F1 racing.
There is no doubt that Formula One is like a circus - a multi-billion-dollar one.
The logistical ramifications are just mind-blowing yet, within minutes of the podium presentation having been taken care of, the process of dismantling the infrastructure and transporting it to the next destination has already begun.
For many of you I'm sure that, like me, attending an F1 race is written pretty high on your "bucket list".
It's one that I can now tick off with one word of warning: if you are ever lucky enough to attend this unique sporting event, remember not to forget to remember your earplugs!
(Bruce Fraser attended the Monza Grand Prix as a guest of Pirelli, official supplier of tyres to F1 vehicles.)